Wed, 18 Oct 2000

Many measures to counter 'urban rebellion'

TOKYO: Looking at the agenda at the current extraordinary Diet session, we find that most of the topics for discussion are to do with measures the ruling parties have devised in their fear of a recurrence of the "urban rebellion," the first of which caused a severe setback to the LDP at the last election.

Many of the measures, including a review of the way public works projects should be carried out and the drafting of a bill to ban politicians from receiving goods and money for working as middlemen, are nothing but countermeasures to prevent another rebellion, made in full awareness of the threat posed by Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), which sharply increased its share of votes in urban areas.

A good example of the countermeasures is the maneuvering in the LDP to change the electoral system for Upper House proportional representation constituencies to a non-binding list system, in which voters are allowed to write the name of their favored candidate on ballots rather than just the name of the party they support, as in the current system.

All this effort seems to suggest that the party is no longer confident of having voters write "LDP" on their ballots. Still, it is doubtful whether such measures can help the party recover lost ground.

Nobuteru Ishihara, one of the LDP's younger and more active politicians, recently delivered a lecture in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Ishihara is a representative of the "Group to Create the LDP of Tomorrow," established by younger members of the LDP in response to the urban rebellion.

The lecture last month was part of a symposium to commemorate the 10th anniversary of "Kanagawa Forum 21," a think tank established by the association of LDP branches in the prefecture.

"Seeing the LDP lose about half of its Lower House members (in the last general election), I could no longer enjoy the taste of my beer,even after the election was over. I feel a sense of loss," Ishihara said. Many former ministers had lost their seats in Tokyo.

"I won 105,000 votes (in the single seat constituency), yet only 46,000 voters in the same constituency wrote "LDP" on their proportional representation ballots. And this phenomenon did not occur only in urban areas.

"In Tochigi prefecture, where some say jokingly that there are more cows than people, the LDP's Yoshimi Watanabe won 112,000 votes (in the single constituency), yet only 63,000 voters in the same constituency voted "LDP" on their proportional representation ballots."

His words were convincing. It was clear why the LDP had lost the confidence to fight next year's Upper House election under the "LDP" banner in proportional representation constituencies.

How did such a situation occur? Ishihara said the reason was the voters' abhorrence of the party's coalitions. "LDP supporters did not think too badly of the coalition with Ichiro Ozawa who openly criticized the LDP, since he is a former member of the party.

But the LDP's partnership with Komeito was another matter. Before the coalition, under the instructions of LDP leader Shizuka Kamei, the LDP was strongly opposed to both Komeito and Soka Gakkai (a Buddhist organization supporting Komeito),even printing and distributing large numbers of leaflets criticizing them.

Ishihara continued, "Despite the above-mentioned history, during the campaign for the last election, some LDP candidates openly asked voters to 'vote for me in the single seat constituency and vote for Komeito in the proportional representation constituency.' If we continue like this, the LDP may well end up collapsing?"

The sense of reality of LDP executives may be something along the lines of, "We are well aware of what Ishihara is insisting. But, we cannot manage to make it through the current extraordinary session of the Diet without our coalition with Komeito.

The situation would be even tougher at the coming Upper House election next year. Don't mention such things at this point." In fact, the LDP leaders' sense of reality may be giving them an uneasy feeling that "Ishihara's group may not be creating the tomorrow of the LDP as much as creating the tomorrow of themselves."

Ishihara also said, "The number of members of my group rose to 48. Unfortunately though, some members may have had pressure put upon them and so turned in notices of withdrawal. We now have 42 active members. The LDP seems to have been losing its generosity and tolerance." I don't know if his words quite hit the mark here.

Notwithstanding Ishihara's remarks on the coalition, it is quite unfair to Komeito to conclude that voter dissatisfaction with its coalition with the LDP is the only reason for the "urban rebellion."

The ultimate reason is perhaps that the LDP cannot adapt itself to the times, which is why Ishihara's group for creating the LDP of tomorrow has started proposing national strategies that include reform of the LDP system and a review of the Japanese Constitution. Without such efforts, the group will never be able to create a "tomorrow of the LDP."

-- Asahi Shimbun